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welfare - a rant
children of dune - leto 1
seperis
*mulls*

Every once in a while (and by that, I mean, on a fairly regular basis), I stumble across Yet Another Rant About Welfare by people who know so painfully little about it that I feel a vague ache in my chest that I've come to realize is actually the seeds of homicidal rage. The political blogs that do it I pretty much blow off--I know they're making shit up for political gain. They know they're making shit up for political gain. So whatever.

The other ones? I can still blow it off, but I am in a transitional computer place in my life.

It's just--it's so hard for people who haven't worked the cases or been the recipients to get how hideously complex it can be because it looks easy from the outside. It does, because federal law requires timelines on how long you have to approve/deny a case, so when everything is running smoothly, it does look like it's walk-in, walk-out, anyone can do it. I didn't work every kind of case imaginable when I was a caseworker, but I saw, caseread, or heard about pretty much all of them. It's hard, from both sides. Period.

And then there's the rants about those that don't deserve it etc.



It's--here's the thing. I don't care.

Burnout at my former job in large cities is high both because of the sheer workload (when I changed jobs, I was running sixteen a day not including the cases that didn't require interviews; now some cities are doing three to four interviews an hour). And you get all of them--those your judgement says should, that shouldn't, that can't, that can and don't, and everything in between. And in the end, I stopped caring about the reasons because they didn't matter.

They're there, and it was more than that my job description didn't include sitting judgment, because the fact of the matter is, left to myself, I'd give it to anyone who came through the door. That's the only way that after all that time, I could be sure everyone who needed it got it. I wouldn't care if Bill Gates wandered in to apply--I'd approve, hand over his card, and wave him goodbye with a smile as long as the woman whose disability check was a dollar over the limit got it too. I knew the equations backward and forward that decide eligibility (and it's insane, I still think the logic behind them is no logic at all), and I know, unlike half the people who start those fucking rants, how many people we turn down, cut benefits, have to say "no" when we can stare at their application and wonder if we can say no and not hate ourselves.

And we can't.

I didn't care. I didn't care if my client had ten kids by ten dads and was pregnant again and had never worked (and the cliche of that is so painfully hilarious--seriously, where are you getting this shit? I can give estimated numbers on that one, and it's below one percent of my total number of interviews, and I averaged about seventy to one hundred interviews a week minimum for eighteen months, not including the Katrina clients), I didn't care if they were lying about their husband being in the house and working because they'd get a benefit cut; I didn't look for reasons to say no. I hated when I had to say no. Because the thing is--

The thing is, few people that were sane, who had any other option at all would go through this. Not the application process, the interview process, the verification process, the waiting for it to go through, and the five billion things that can go wrong, from computer failure to application failure to stolen SSN numbers that cause false reports, to stalking ex-significant others to the caseworker getting sick for two weeks and the workload so high their cases end up being late, late, and so very late.

Not the sheer nightmare of applying for TANF that I can't even talk about without twitching, the impossible restrictions and requirements, the catch-22s that are built into the system. Not the Medicaid that is great except for all the ways that the government has made it such a song and dance to get a simple doctor's appointment to the horrific realization your client is on chemo and her case is being denied and there's not a fucking thing you can do to help her but hope that the computer system fails that month and she is accidentally awarded another month.

I used to argue with my boss about that--two, three bosses back--about TANF and the ridiculous rules and how people do use it to get farther and how he'd smile and say that was the exception. And I'd get frustrated because I didn't really have an answer to that one--he'd know. He had a billion years of tenure.

Reading the latest rant, I realized I'd given the wrong answer.

When he said it was an exception, I should have answered, we're not here for the exceptions, not mostly, not completely, not only. The exceptions find a way--they do, they always do, they burn themselves out, but they find a way to get through and survive and prosper, that's why they're exceptions and I'm glad to be a part of their journey, to be the one privileged to help them. But the people we're here for are the ones that are the rule; the ones that can't be that, won't be, for whatever reason, from abuse so grinding they were lost before they came to me and might be lost until the day they die, from apathy, from training, from disposition, from a lifetime I haven't lived and God willing I never will.

Caseworkers--we bitch and rant to each other, to our families, to our friends, throw our fits about the people, the job, the atmosphere, the weather, but here's the thing; most of us didn't fall into the job because we found the job in the local newspaper.

We found it when we went to apply for benefits, and on the shelf by the door, there was a stack of job applications and dozen copies of job openings with the state.

The caseworker looked at us thoughtfully and glanced at our food stamp application. They might ask if we finished high school or have our GED. They make some notes. They get up and wander over nad pick up an application and a copy of the job opening. They tell us, I was looking at your job history. You have a lot of experience with *something*. Ever thought of being a caseworker?

That's not how it happened for me. But that's how it happened for a lot of us. And when we bitch, and argue, and sometimes get tired and angry, we also almost never say, this shouldn't be here. We rarely say, there should be more restrictions. We don't say, God, I wish this entire system would just stop. We don't ever say welfare is pointless. We'll slog through ten, twenty, fifty applications a day if we have to, and when we go home, what we remember is this: there was someone, and they needed us, and we said no.

So from me, to the next person who bitches about welfare and trots out mythical statistics: Shut. Up. I'd say fuck you, but then I'd have to tell you how to apply for pregnancy Medicaid in case your birth control fails, your IUD doesn't work, or the asshole doesn't use a condom, and you realize that your job's medical insurance doesn't cover pregnancy and the guy wanders off for greener pastures. Later, you realize they don't offer paid maternity leave and hey, you got the lottery of being the one in however many with the tragically horrific case of morning sickness that gets your boss on your case about the amount of time you spend throwing up in teh bathroom. Or if it turns high-risk and you're on bedrest and IVs for four months.

Not that that ever happens. That is obviously a myth perpetuated by the liberal left, the communists, or maybe the Taliban; who is it this week, anyway?

(belated reaction to one of the comments here.)


I get furious too because two years ago for the first time I was at beam-ends and there I was, sitting in a room full of other people, waiting to turn in an application to PA's DPW, just hoping that we'd get enough to cover some bills and maybe some heating assistance until I could pull myself together enough to be able to go back to work. I spent several hours filling out forms, then waiting, then was interviewed, then went home and waited until I was notifed that, basically, because in the entire prior year I'd earned $6,000, I was way too wealthy to qualify for any assistance at all, despite having no job, being mentally ill, and therefore not likely to be working in the immediate future.

Yeh, that was me, trying to "work the system." There might have been a couple of people in that waiting room who were doing that, but mostly I saw and heard people who were single parents, had lost jobs, etc., trying to keep things together long enough to maybe get on their feet again. I was lucky, we got through because we had friends who handed us money and food and support and Annie's SSI is miniscule, but it's something. I don't know what people do who don't have that - live in a box on the street, I guess.

My rage gets incandescent when I hear or read some twat spouting off about people living high on the hog off of welfare. There may be a couple out there, but for the most part that is an urban myth made out of utter bullshit.

My rage gets incandescent when I hear or read some twat spouting off about people living high on the hog off of welfare. There may be a couple out there, but for the most part that is an urban myth made out of utter bullshit.

I waited to see one of those when I began casework? Never did.

It's just--I stare blankly and can't even laugh when the nonsense starts, it's so mindbogglingly ridiculous. It's like their entire interaction with the world consists of never actually living in it. Which is probably true.


I really don't have much to say beyond A-fucking-men! I'm acutally not on welfare, but I'm on Social Security Disability and every time I see the damn wingnuts going on about how the federal assistance--welfare, Medicaid, SSI and so on--system is being abused it makes me want to scream. At some point don't we as decent human beings have to say "never mind the abuse; we'll try to curb it but the more important thing is that people are going hungry and are living on the streets, and that's Just Wrong.

It should be. Abusing the system is bad and God knows I've seen it--but it's not as prevalent as mythology makes it, and--even if it was? It doesn't matter, as long as we can help the people who need the help.

It's this weird mentality that throws the baby out with the bathwater and then rants about the lack of babies in the world.

See. I wish Welfare didn't exist because it didn't have to. That no one is in a situation so bad that they have to resort to it, that they are employed and making enough to at least feed and clothe everyone and keep a roof over their heads.

And I wish Welfare was better set-up to help make that *happen* for the souls who've found themselves with so few options. I don't blame the case-workers, who are so overloaded they can barely manage what they do. I just wish... more people would volunteer, would help educate and prepare and help set people back on their feet where they *can* take care of themselves.

But... none of that is the same as thinking that Welfare is, somehow, a waste. That the people applying for it are parasites that have no desire to fend for themselves. Or, just, anything.

I want a *better* world, not a worse one. And taking away what little bit of societal safety net we've got for the people who don't have any of their own isn't going to make a *better* world. It's not any kind of solution at all.

I don't have the rage when I see that kind of thinking just, I don't know, a bone-deep exhaustion and despair for that better world. But I can't even imagine what it must be like for someone with an intimate familiarity with the system.

From someone that benefited from food stamps and medicaid, thank you. Anyone who bitches about welfare should try being in high school and going to a store where all your friends work and paying with food stamps.

My mother's a caseworker for an AIDS foundation but she started out as a secretary for the state welfare program, working her way up to caseworker status. As frustrating as her job is she loves it.

I did as a student with Child and same thing, though I was twenty.

*g* My mom was a clerk then worker, then after a decade or so, went to regional and state level in the agency. I learned a lot about it from her.

Comments like that just--it's like rage to the point of nausea, I can't even. And I was never in the position that you were in, to really see it, but I'm with you in that I'd sooner give welfare (and for that matter, pain medication) to one "scammer" than have to deny it to anyone who really needs it.

God, the way we demonize poverty in this country is truly horrifying and... you know, in all of the recent discussions I've seen going around fandom about racism, antisemitism, and genocide, it's sad that we can't talk about this kind of classism without it turning into the infamous cracktrailer!wank or people mocking the concept of othering. (Disclaimer: I do think it's important to talk about all of the above in addition to issues of poverty and class, but I'd also love to see an anonymous poll about how many people in fandom have ever been on public assistance or SSI, put themselves through school, have student loans, etc., because I've always thought talking about money really is the most taboo subject.)

And wow, I did not know I was going to start ranting too. Sorry.

Edited at 2007-11-11 06:57 am (UTC)

I know the feeling. I didn't realize it wasn't going to be a short, sarcastic rant until I hit the fifth paragraph. It's--yeah.

It would be interesting to find out those things, though, just to get an idea of the range we have who know personally and who know theoretically. Hmm.

(Deleted comment)
The people (in my experience, that is) who tend to lose their shit the most are cusp but never quite at the level of really *requiring* assistance. They look back, see they survived on whatever level, and cant' imagine anyone who can't do that.

Honestly, I know do that kind of thing myself (and really try to catch myself and realize that I don't and can't ever have access to every factor of a person's life that led them to whatever), but not in this, because the personal experience on both sides of the desk brought home the reality of the sheer *number* of things that can happen. With welfare, though, I understand less because it's so often linked to both race and sex that it sometimes feels like the actual issue isn't poverty but the--hmm, geekturnedvamp put it better, the othering. I agree with what you said and add this, which you probably were implying: the need for superiority to someone. And it's far easier on the conscience to justify it if you can add a moral superiority (they're all working the system), not just one that is based on income.

I recently took part in a decision to call social services in on a mother who has eight kids and no dad at home, no job, no help, and she's suffering form depression and anxiety (can't imagine why). I had at least three people whom *I LIKE* under normal circumstances say she was just popping the kids out for the money she could get. And you know what?

Part of the reason we reported her was because she wasn't willing to fill out the forms to get the assistance. Their all going on about how she is working the system, and I'm saying "No, you don't get it. She isn't CAPABLE. She is neglecting her children, who are coming in with injuries form EACH OTHER."

It was the weirdest thing to hear, because she wasn't getting any money from the state - and yet all anyone could say was that she was obviously the classic welfare mother.

How?

How can she be the classic welfare mom when she isn't getting any money, because she is apparently too paranoid to fill out the forms? The woman needs help, the children need to be in a safe environment - preferably one with heat - and god knows how this is going to happen.

It makes no sense.

God. *facepalm* That's--that's--I'm so sorry. For having to make that kind of hard decision and the woman and her kids.

I have a dear friend who doesn't work, partially due to disability, partially because if she did, she and her roommates would get less money in assistance. They abso-fucking-lutely cannot afford less money coming into the house. As it is, every other month they're having to make a choice - pay the water bill, or go grocery shopping?

It makes me see red. I cannot discuss these things rationally, because I have seen far too many people, people I know and people I don't know, struggling to get enough to eat and pay the rent on a tiny horrible little apartment. And there are people saying that the system is broken and there's so much abuse of it and it shouldn't be there. No. Just no.

have a dear friend who doesn't work, partially due to disability, partially because if she did, she and her roommates would get less money in assistance. They abso-fucking-lutely cannot afford less money coming into the house.

That's teh most insane part about benefits; it literally punishes you for incremental steps upward. It's--it's so nuts, but unless you can move from zero to well-paid, in a lot of circumstances, it's idiotic to even try. There's no step-down or safety net for people to use.

It makes me see red. I cannot discuss these things rationally, because I have seen far too many people, people I know and people I don't know, struggling to get enough to eat and pay the rent on a tiny horrible little apartment. And there are people saying that the system is broken and there's so much abuse of it and it shouldn't be there. No. Just no.

It's funny about even the abuse; so rarely is it abuse that any of us would not find pretty understandable in the circumstances. At least, the people I've seen with program violations et al. While I'm sure there are ones taht do it purely for greed, the ones I saw were just that desperate.

*sends support to your friend*

Stupid comment, but it's been on my mind due to some inquiries and a training we had--the United Way has a number, 211, that keeps a massive database of *all* assistnace programs, state, federal, local, and non-profit. I mean, it's huge and has almost everything you can imagine. If it's available in her area and she hasn't contacted it, it might be a good place to try; they have a lot of programs that I never knew existed before I found out about it. They also have website database up, I think, if the number hasn't yet gone through in her area.

*hugs*

Thank you. What a beautiful and clear thought: They're there, and it was more than that my job description didn't include sitting judgment, because the fact of the matter is, left to myself, I'd give it to anyone who came through the door. That's the only way that after all that time, I could be sure everyone who needed it got it.

Now I know I love you, in that fannishly fangirl-ish shared-culture friendship kinda way.

Also, belatedly, welcome to the Cult of Firefox. You have been assimilated. And it will be good. (Any questions re addons and such, feel free to ask - though you probably have advice pouring in from dozens of more qualified others. I'm just all "yay Firefox! yay".)

Firefox is totally a cult. I am pleased to be among you and bow to my new overlord. *dog like devotion*

*hugs back*

The same attitude towards benefit claimants is pretty much rampant in the UK too. I honestly tire of hearing the same crap over and over from people who have absolutely no understanding of the issues that mean people seek assistance in the first place.

I mean, seriously, if I had a pound for every time someone said something derogatory about people claiming disability in the UK, or was told to just 'pull myself together and get a job', I wouldn't need Income Support and Disability Living Allowance. Nor would I ever need to work again.

It's boggling. And it's so--utterly out of proportion to reality that it stuns me.

Thank you. I tend to lurk around here, reading your fic and chuckling over your machinations to doom your mother to an endless existance of playing computer games, but this post has dragged me out of lurkerdom.

We're relatively lucky over here in Australia - okay, let's be frank - we're very lucky over here with our welfare system. And all I can say is thank god!

I'm physically disabled, was granted a disability pension the moment I qualified at the age of 16 years, and was helped into my first job in 1980 by a government-run specialist disability service. The last 8 years of my work history was as a specialist employment adviser, with our social security department, working with sole parent pensioners.

And every election, my teeth would grate as the conservative factions in politics and the community trotted out the same old platforms in order to gain/hold power. The welfare cheats! The dole bludgers! The teenage mums churning out kids for money. At the time of my employment, teenage mums made up 5% of the sole parent pensioner population (not general pensioner population) and births to teenage mums made up only 1% of all births.

And now we're on the countdown to our latest federal election, in early December. So far the hackneyed chorus has not started again, but that's only because the two major parties are too busy slingshotting dead carcasses at each other over their industrial relations policies to worry about using the welfare recipients as fodder. But I'm waiting. They'll start any time now... *nods*

*twitch* That's got to be stressful. And it's just--gah. *breathes*

I'm so sorry.

(Deleted comment)
Thanks for fighting the good fight. My family at various times had to go on government assistance of some kind, mainly WIC and Medicaid, during my childhood since my parents were very much working class living paycheck to paycheck. And now I've got my degree, my younger brother is in college, and my youngest brother is in the top 8% of his class.

Government assistance can most certainly help people in times of need, and give them that security net to get back on their feet. But you know, our government and society have this "fuck the poor" mentality, and it's horrible.

Yes, exactly. It's there for a reason, for *that* reason exactly.

Rant on, sister! Yours is a lot better thought out and informed than mine, which generally is a lot of spluttering and swearing. It's a wonderful rant, and I'm glad you keep posting about this stuff. & since I'm sure you don't get enough appreciation for your job, I send some extra appreciation your way. Given the system we have, yours is an important job, and I'm glad you're doing it.

*g* I'm an ombudsman now, which is dealing with the clients when the system fails, basically, and it's mindboggling how impossible it can be. It's--in some ways, now, I get an even larger view of the problems with the system as it stands, and it has so little to do with the people who need it and so much to do with teh people that keep trying to restrict it.

(one day I'm going to work out exactly how much it costs to run the system with the restrictions and problems compared to how much is actually given to/spent for the clients. There's a part of me that's uncomfortably sure that more is paid out for the entire bureaucracy than the actual recipients.)

I just....

Ok, first, I can't understand why someone who's working at a grocery store (where you get paid for shit) would treat someone like that.


And then that comment.

and, I just.... really really really want to bash some common sense into that girl's brains.

There was a point in the last few years, where my mother did tell me to go and see if i could get foodstamps. because i wasn't eating. but i couldn't do it. i couldn't make myself go to the office. Jenn, ok. I'm about a sixteen most of the time. I got down to a size 10. because I didn't have the money to pay for food for two people. And I knew, just knew that if my sister didn't eat, something bad was going to happen. So there was ham and bread and koolaid, but neither of us really ate. and when it got to the point of go back to school and live in my car or don't go back to school and live in my car, money for food almost to that point again. thankfully, my parents let me move back in with them. But I know that if it ever comes to that point again, I will go to that office. Because that was fucking scary.


sorry. i was rambling. *wipes tears*

I work in a low poverty area. The majority of the kids at my school are on free lunch.

How can you hold a free lunch program against someone? That and the free breakfast (mostly provided by the food vendors themselves) are the only meals that some of those kids eat.

But we're suppose to do away with welfare.

I have no idea what to say. I mean, other than *hugs* and Jesus, God.

But I know that if it ever comes to that point again, I will go to that office. Because that was fucking scary.

God yes. I would stand in the street handling out apps and telling them how to fill them out if I could. The idea that needing help is shameful has to be gotten out of us already.

I work in a low poverty area. The majority of the kids at my school are on free lunch.

How can you hold a free lunch program against someone? That and the free breakfast (mostly provided by the food vendors themselves) are the only meals that some of those kids eat.

But we're suppose to do away with welfare.


I don't know. I honestly don't. Even from a nasty, purely capitalistic pov, it makes no sense. Even in a business model, starving kids/ill kids/kids who grow up with poor nutrition don't contribute to society. It literally doesn't make sense.

*more hugs* Jesus again. I'm so sorry. I worked with a lot of people in shitty sitches, and so many of them were so horrifically embarrassed to be there and I kept telling them over and over how this was what they were supposed to do, this is why this exists, this is why I'm here and my job isn't just a duty but a privilege to be able to help in some way. I still don't know if any of them ever believed me.

I love your attitude. We have a lot more safety nets here in Australia than in the US, and still there are people who live on the street and don't have enough to eat. Countries without basic welfare as a right frighten me. But Australia is moving further toward the US model every year - and I believe it's because of the attitudes that you're talking about. The sensationalist stories of the mythical "welfare moms" and "dole bludgers" (here in Aus), who take money out of the hands of the hardworking, frighten the general population. And a frightened person is one who loses their ability to care for the other. Compassion and caring are two words rapidly losing any currency in our societies. Good on you for caring enough to ensure that those who need it get what they need.

The sensationalist stories of the mythical "welfare moms" and "dole bludgers" (here in Aus), who take money out of the hands of the hardworking, frighten the general population. And a frightened person is one who loses their ability to care for the other.

Yes. Invoking that terror is the fastest way to strip people of what makes them human.

*sighs*